Karrnathi Undead Soldier Tactics

Karrnathi undead soldiers constitute the bulk of the army of the kingdom of Karrnath. Seeking to stave off defeat in the face of failing fortunes, Karrnath allowed necromancer-priests to bolster its army by raising the dead. After the war, many of these undead soldiers were sealed away from the world—but not all of them.

As combatants, they’re not complicated. With very high Strength and Constitution, they’re brute melee fighters that seek to close the distance between themselves and their foes as quickly as possible. However, they also have respectable Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom, indicating a fair measure of flexibility. Unlike your off-the-rack skeleton or zombie, Karrnathi undead soldiers are clever and perceptive. Their compulsion is to triumph, by whatever means are at hand, and they’re capable of exercising sound and nimble independent judgment to determine what the best means are. They aren’t flummoxed by a deep trench, for example—rather than stop in their tracks, like a skeleton, or march right into it, like a zombie, they’ll build a bridge.

Thanks to their darkvision, Karrnathi undead soldiers can and do march on their foes at night, Multiattacking with Longbow until they close with their opponents, then switching to Longsword. The fact that they can’t see farther than 60 feet in darkness doesn’t deter them if they know where their enemies are: Since they already have disadvantage on Longbow attacks from between 150 and 600 feet away, the fact that their targets are shrouded in darkness doesn’t make their chances any worse, and their Multiattack gives each of them three shots per turn. The only range in which the limit of their darkvision matters is between 60 and 150 feet, and they can cover this ground with one round of Dashing plus one round of normal movement. To avoid any letup in their barrage, they divide into two equal groups, one of which Dashes forward while the other keeps shooting, then shoots while the other Dashes to catch up. Continue reading Karrnathi Undead Soldier Tactics

Dolgaunt and Dolgrim Tactics

Sincere apologies to everyone for disappearing for the entire month of October. I have a good excuse: I was spending what little free time I had working furiously on finishing my next book, which will include some entities that certain readers have been awaiting for a long, long time.

Today, I return to Eberron with a couple of quasi-humanoid aberrations, the dolgrim and the dolgaunt, both of them species that originated as goblinoid races warped by evil magic.

Dolgrims look like the result of a transporter malfunction, each one the fusing of two goblin individuals into one horrible entity with four arms, two mouths and two dissociated personalities. Unlike ordinary goblins, dolgrims are shock attackers, with high Strength along with high Dexterity and merely above-average Constitution. They also have less Intelligence than the average goblin, no doubt the result of the clashing noise in their heads. However, their split personalities do confer one advantage: advantage on saving throws against certain mind-affecting debilitating conditions.

Because their Strength and Dex are roughly equal—the base scores differ, with Strength slightly higher, but the modifiers are the same—they can flex between attacking at range and in melee. But that higher Strength gives them a slight preference for melee, so they have a simple approach to combat: Regardless of what range they begin at, they charge, shooting with their crossbows as they run, throwing spears when they come within 60 feet and finally switching to their morningstars upon arrival.

Their Multiattack gives them three attacks per turn, but this doesn’t supersede the loading property of the hand crossbow: “You can fire [sic] only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.” [Linguistic nitpick: You don’t “fire” weapons that don’t use gunpowder. You “shoot” or “loose” their ammunition.] Thus, as long as they’re attacking with Hand Crossbow, they can shoot only once per turn. There’s no range at which it makes sense to shoot once rather than throw three spears, not even between 20 and 30 feet (unless the target has AC 19 or greater, and that’s not an assessment dolgrims are equipped to make). Continue reading Dolgaunt and Dolgrim Tactics

Sword Wraith Tactics

I often talk about undead creatures as being driven by compulsions relating to the circumstances of their reanimation, and the sword wraith is a dandy example of a backstory-driven compulsion: a warrior, obsessed with glory, slain in combat in a manner much more in line with the reality of war than the ennoblement of it, and refusing to stop seeking that glorious victory despite being technically dead. It comes in two varieties: the rank-and-file sword wraith warrior and the higher-level sword wraith commander.

According to the flavor text, despite being evil-aligned, sword wraiths don’t necessarily attack every living being who comes near. They’re closer to ghosts, haunting the locations where they met their ignominious demises and grinding their emotional axes. They can be talked to. They can be flattered. They can be offended. (Boy, can they be offended.) Mostly, they want to be treated with the adulation they expected to receive for the valorous deeds they were very sure they were capable of performing.

Both sword wraith warriors and sword wraith commanders are melee-focused brutes, with exceptional Strength and Constitution. Sword wraith warriors have animal-level Intelligence and below-average Wisdom, while sword wraith commanders have more humanoid-typical Intelligence and above-average Wisdom, so while they play the same combat role, they assess situations differently. Continue reading Sword Wraith Tactics

Vampiric Mist Tactics

Alas, there isn’t much to say about vampiric mist, which is what you end up with when the body of a vampire is destroyed but its essence isn’t. With no way to form a new body, it floats around aimlessly, feeding off victims by employing a sort of necrotic vacuum effect to pull blood out of victims’ pores and facial orifices.

I normally begin by looking at a creature’s ability contour, but in this case, there’s not much point. There’s only one stat that matters, and that’s its Intelligence, which is subsapient. Vampiric mist has no judgment, only instinct. Moreover, it has no attack action per se, only Life Drain, an effect that requires a saving throw to resist. Vampiric mist isn’t so much a creature as it is a punishment.

Because of their Sunlight Sensitivity, vampiric mists come outside only after dark, and they don’t mess around with civil, nautical or astronomical twilight. It’s nighttime or nothing.

Also, thanks to the Forbiddance feature, one is safe from vampiric mist as long as one is inside a residential building, either one’s own home or someone else’s. (“The mist can’t enter a residence without an invitation from one of the occupants,” but seriously, who’s going to invite a grayish-crimson, foul-smelling cloud of vapor to come inside, especially one that can’t even knock on the door or answer the question, “Who’s there?”) Inns are a gray area: If you’ve ever read a zoning ordinance, you know that inns are commercial, not residential. On the other hand, a rented room at an inn can be an individual’s primary place of residence and therefore, in a legal sense, their home. As Dungeon Master, you make the call regarding whether a player character has a permanent enough arrangement with an inn to construe their room as a residence. There’s no ambiguity around monasteries and convents: as both permanent residences and hallowed ground, they’re safe. But adventurers spend a lot of time on the road, and a tent is not a building, period. Continue reading Vampiric Mist Tactics

Trapper and Girallon Tactics

These two monsters have nothing to do with each other except that (a) they’re the last two monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters that I planned to look at and hadn’t yet, and (b) neither one is all that interesting. Although, to my surprise, the one I thought would be more interesting turned out not to be interesting at all, while the one I thought would be less interesting turned out to be a little more so. Continue reading Trapper and Girallon Tactics

Cave Fisher Tactics

You see a name like “cave fisher,” and it doesn’t register with you at first, and as you study the stat block, you come to realize that the name is almost a perfectly literal description of what the creature that bears that name does: It sits in lightless caves, casts a line, waits for a meal to come to it, then reels it in.

A relative, perhaps, of the giant spider, the cave fisher is a human-size, wall-crawling arachnid with crablike claws. A solitary predator, with double proficiency in Stealth, the cave fisher is pretty dumb and inflexible, but it has one good trick up its sleeve: an extremely strong, extremely sticky filament that it can use to yank victims toward it from as much as 60 feet away. Coincidentally, I’m sure, 60 feet is the most common radius of darkvision, which means that if the cave fisher positions itself just right, it can lie in wait just beyond the ability of any prey, even prey with darkvision, to spot it. Even if it must lurk closer, expertise in Stealth plus disadvantage on targets’ Perception checks is a strong combo.

On top of that, it has Spider Climb, which allows it to move freely along walls and even across ceilings. This allows it to pull the dirtiest of tricks: hiding on the ceiling, then yanking its prey up to it, where if said prey manages to wriggle free of the cave fisher’s sticky strand, it has nowhere to go but straight down. Continue reading Cave Fisher Tactics

Slithering Tracker Tactics

Time for another oldie but goodie: the slithering tracker, one of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual’s original oozes. Mind you, back then, “ooze” wasn’t a monster category; certain monsters simply happened to be oozy by nature. Also, it was smaller: only 2½ feet long. (It’s Medium-size now.)

A curious thing about the slithering tracker is that its lore has also been changed: it’s no longer a mere denizen of the underdark but the product of a nasty magical transformation, the sort that usually produces something undead, and rather than simply hunt prey to consume, it actively seeks vengeance. However, unlike, say, a revenant, once a slithering tracker sucks the life out of its target, it doesn’t consider its mission fulfilled. Instead, it keeps compulsively sucking life from whatever other beings it can suck life from until it’s put out of its misery.

For this reason, you can’t treat a slithering tracker like any other ooze. It’s much more akin to the undead, in the sense that it’s driven by a compulsion that it can’t control and that overrides its survival instinct, despite its high Wisdom. Continue reading Slithering Tracker Tactics

Leucrotta Tactics

Given a choice between looking at a completely new monster and one from the good ol’ days, I have a strong tendency to gravitate toward the latter, and when I wrote up a list of creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes that I haven’t examined yet, one name jumped out at me: the leucrotta, which appeared in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual along with a much handsomer illustration than it’s given in Volo’s—but not nearly as hilarious a description. (Volo’s: “A leucrotta is what you would get if you took the head of a giant badger, the brain of a person who likes to torture and eat people, the legs of a deer, and the body of a large hyena, put them together, and reanimated them with demon ichor without bothering to cover up the stink of death.”)

I don’t recall leucrottas’ being associated closely with gnolls in the earliest days of the game, but in fifth-edition D&D, the connection is explicit: they’re another creation of the demon lord Yeenoghu. They’re smarter than the average gnoll and even smarter than gnoll pack lords, though not quite up to the level of a gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu. But they’re also less social, associating with gnolls mainly out of convenience and treating them as pawns when they do.

Leucrottas are large, fast, strong and tough—brutes, but unusually swift ones. They’re predators, but they lack proficiency in Stealth, which necessitates some creativity in their hunting pattern. How does a predator capture prey when it’s not good at hiding? Continue reading Leucrotta Tactics

Deathlock Tactics

Pacts formed with supernatural patrons tend not to have escape clauses, and the penalties for breaking them can be unpleasant. Did you make a pact with an archfiend to do its bidding in exchange for occult powers and fail to live up to the terms? No “till death do us part” in this vow—that archfiend owns you after death, as well. You’re a deathlock, Harry! Free will? No longer an issue. You’re undead now, and your compulsion is to serve your patron—and to do a better job of it than you did when you were alive.

I got my first request to look at the deathlock a fairly long time ago, but just yesterday a reader noticed that it was finally coming up in the queue and asked: “The deathlock only gets two spell slots. What does it do afterward? [Player character] warlocks are built around recharging with a short rest every battle, but enemies rarely survive to return for a second battle, and with its pathetic stats, the only way it’s going to survive is by casting invisibility—and if it saves a spell slot for that, it’s down to one spell slot.”

Well, first of all, let’s look at whether the premises of this question are true. The deathlock’s ability contour peaks in Charisma and Dexterity, which is exactly what you’d expect of a spellslinger in general and a warlock in particular; its Intelligence is also above average. Its 36 average hit points (which you can nudge up, incidentally, if you feel like it needs more staying power) aren’t out of line for a challenge rating 4 foe. Plus, it has resistance to physical damage from nonmagical, non-silvered weapons, so unless you’re handing out magic items like candy, there’s a decent chance that your mid-level adventurers will do only half damage to it. (It’s also resistant to necrotic damage and immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, but these are less significant.) Continue reading Deathlock Tactics

Chitine and Choldrith Tactics

Today I look at two related creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the chitine and the choldrith, part-elf, part-spider abominations created by magic as servitors of the spider goddess Lolth, patron of the drow. Based on their descriptions in the lore, even though they’ve produced offspring for many generations, the manner of their creation and the strong connection to their demonic mistress’s will suggests that they haven’t evolved; rather, they remain much as they were when they were created. Which implies two things: that they don’t necessarily have the same survival instincts that evolved creatures do, and that they may occasionally behave in suboptimal ways.

Chitines—hairy bipeds with multiple additional arms and eyes—are the more humanoid of the monstrous pair. They’re also the weaker, with a challenge rating of just 1/2. Largely, they’re uncomplicated ambush attackers. Their Web Sense and Web Walker traits strongly suggest that they’re usually encountered in the company of creatures that spin webs, such as their choldrith cousins, giant spiders or ettercaps; they may also be minions of a drow arachnomancer. But while spinning webs isn’t part of their combat repertoire, it is something they can do on their own time, according to the flavor text, so they don’t need these other creatures to have a webbed-up field to fight on. Fighting in webs and pitch darkness gives them a big comparative advantage. Their Stealth proficiency and climbing movement suggest not only that they lurk in the dark, waiting to pounce, but that they lurk in the dark on the ceiling.

With Intelligence and Wisdom of only 10, chitines aren’t particularly choosy about their targets. Their above-average Dexterity and Constitution suggest a preference for skirmishing, but really, Dexterity is both their primary offensive ability and their primary defensive ability, and they lean heavily on their Multiattack. Even when engaged with one melee opponent, they’re happy to ditch them to go after another who seems more vulnerable, judging by size, age, relative isolation, whether a they seem to have a hard time seeing in the dark, and/or whether they’re under a debilitating condition, such as being restrained by sticky webs. They’re not quite smart or disciplined enough to know how to Disengage, so they’ll often provoke opportunity attacks against themselves while darting from opponent to opponent. But they can—and do—minimize these by climbing up walls, skittering across ceilings to get past enemies they don’t want to engage with, then dropping down on those they do want to engage. Continue reading Chitine and Choldrith Tactics